Portrush to be next disabled-friendly beach
Accessibility to be boosted after success at Benone
Amphibious chairs and wheelchair-friendly surfboards could be coming to Portrush's East Strand to create Northern Ireland's latest accessible beach.
So far Benone in Limavady is the only beach here with facilities to help those with a disability to enjoy everything a beach has to offer.
Specialist equipment provided by the Mae Murray Foundation charity includes mobile hoists and portable pathways to allow wheelchairs to move on the sand.
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council agreed to store the equipment while working to develop the site with a number of other agencies. The DUP's George Duddy, chair of the council's leisure and development committee, said a family fun day on Benone in August had encouraged the council to replicate the initiative on other beaches. "It's hard to put into words how much people enjoyed it," he said.
"The smiles on the children's faces, their whole body language changed.
"They were so excited to get into the water and participate. That's in no small part assisted by the families and carers as well.
"It was humbling to watch them enjoying something the rest of us take for granted."
At Benone, risk assessments and a booking system for the equipment has been established.
Further agreements state lifeguards must be on duty when the equipment is in use, while the RNLI has become familiar with the apparatus in case of an emergency.
There are further plans to enhance the existing facilities at Benone beach by installing a ramp access point from the public road, and to introduce speed restrictions.
Mr Duddy said proposals to bring the initiative to other beaches had received unanimous support on the council and he was hopeful Portrush's East Strand would be next in line.
Mae Murray Foundation founder Alix Crawford, whose daughter Talia has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, said it was her ambition in the coming years to create at least one inclusive beach in each council area with a coastline.
She added: "Several councils are keen to develop more than one inclusive beach in their area and we were recently tasked with evaluating Portrush East Strand at the request of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
"We would be delighted to be able to progress work here at some stage in the future."